Another doctor’s appointment and I’m sitting in the waiting area. I’m a little nervous. I take a breath. I’m a pro now at this, I tell myself. I know how to be my own advocate. I was well prepared. I had, with me, my trusty pen and paper and had written down my questions so that I would remember to ask them. I say “hello” to the other patient who is sitting opposite me, flicking through a small pile of medical notes on his lap. The door to the consultation room is open, and I notice that it is not my usual doctor sitting behind the desk. Never mind, I’m prepared. I know what I’m doing.
I hear some muffled speech, which must be coming from the consultation room. I scan the face of my fellow patient—he was looking towards the doorway. From his seat, in a raised voice, he announces his name, “Miguel”. He then turns to look at me. Ah, the doctor is shouting out the names of patients who are on the list of his appointments. I stand up, walk to the doorway, and say my name so that the doctor knows who I am. He lifts his head slightly, barely acknowledging me. On my way back to my seat, he shouts another name. Miguel looks at me. He hasn’t understood the muffled words either. Miguel shouts something through the doorway, I think he’s telling the doctor that there are only the two of us waiting. The doctor shouts another muffled name. Miguel’s eyes look unimpressed above his facemask. I decide to stand in the doorway so I can try to identify my name when he calls it. After a couple more mumbles, I recognise some tones that resemble my name and walk through the door, announcing my name again, just to check!
I sit down at the desk. The doctor has 2 facemasks pressed tightly to his face—a white FFP2 covered by a standard blue surgical mask. After the initial greeting, I begin by telling him that I have hearing loss. No visible reaction. Perhaps he grunted, I can’t be sure. My heart is beating fast, and I feel my self-confidence draining quickly. He mutters something. I don’t know what he said, so I begin to tell him why I’m there, which is for the results of a routine blood test. His fingers slowly tap the keyboard, and then he commences to read the results from behind the computer screen. Now I can’t even see his eyes. His speech is a muffled mess. Oh, and it’s a Spanish-muffled mess because I live in Spain! My levels of Spanish are okay in good listening situations. But, with two facemasks, no facial cues, nerves, increased tinnitus, and further buzzing from something in the room (perhaps the light), I wouldn’t have understood him if he had been speaking in English, never mind a second language. I repeatedly ask him for repetition, making it clear that I can’t hear him.
I notice a printer behind him. I interrupt him and ask if he can print out the results for me. He says he will, and I can collect them from downstairs in the reception. Hmm, not very helpful. I need to see them now, not on my way out of the surgery! I look at him, and he points to his printer—I think he’s saying it doesn’t work. More muttering continues. I gather that my results show some unexpected high levels. I’m trying to stay calm, knowing at least I will get a paper copy of these results that I can read when I get home. After a few minutes, there’s a knock on the door, and a man delivers some notes. I hear him say my name. The doctor says something to the man in the same cold tone while handing me my results. There are asterisks next to certain numbers, and I start to interpret them to the best of my ability.
The doctor starts to talk about one of the levels. He seems shocked at how high it is. Should I be worried? He mumbles something. Again, I ask for repetition. He mumbles again. I still can’t decipher what he’s saying. I ask him to write down what he’s saying, and he just points to the notes I have in my hand. I think he’s telling me that I already have the information. He makes a couple of appointments, referring me to a specialist. I ask him to repeat the name of the type of doctor I’m being referred to. He repeats the word, and I am able to pick out some letter sounds. Though I have my own pen, I reach over his desk and take his pen, and use it pointedly to write the word down on my notes. I repeat what I have heard. It’s a word I am unfamiliar with, and I have no idea what kind of specialist this is! He nods. He then tells me we are finished—this he says in a clear voice, using his hands to clearly signal it’s time for me to go.
Even after 6 years and many successful times advocating for myself, I still sometimes struggle with this. Some people are harder than others to convey my needs to. I felt uncomfortable around this doctor, who seemed to have not only two layers of a facemask obstructing his speech but also an impenetrable forcefield around him. I should have tried harder to break it down. I deserve to understand. My health is important. I should have asked him to make more accommodations. Removing even one layer of mask would have been helpful. I should have insisted he write down the important information.
Self-advocacy is not a linear process, but a continuous learning journey, which comes with its ups and downs. Next time will be better.